Shorewood — Shorewood School District Superintendent Bryan Davis has apologized to AP art students for ordering their hallway mural about Shorewood race relations be painted over.
The AP art students received permission from both high school principals to install a temporary mural 'as long as it doesn't make the news,' said AP studio art teacher Jessica Mohagen. An old art mural was going to be repainted in the fall anyway, and the AP art project was going to be displayed on a temporary basis.
The temporary replacement mural was more controversial than the administration expected — and it has, in fact, made the news.
Mohagen oversaw the project along with art teacher Jeff Zimpel. They said they expressed some reluctance about the project, but the students' passion for racial inclusion — combined with their extensive research on the project — convinced them to approve the project.
'I felt strongly that the students did their research, and they could back up what they were doing,' Mohagen said. 'I was proud of them for fighting for something and not doing what was easy.'
The mural is headlined with 'Shorewood is progressive,' and then under that banner it lists several contradicting statements from black students and alumni such as 'Here, they'll find a reason to pull me over,' and 'They were quick to give up on the Chapter 220 children.'
As part of their research for the project, the art students spent six hours talking with black students and alumni, as well as Solana Patterson-Ramos, a community organizer with local ACLU and NAACP chapters who often visits Shorewood's New Horizons charter school.
The mural was installed on Thursday, May 26. After hearing several concerns, Davis asked the mural be removed before the end of the three-day Memorial Day weekend.
The students knew there was a chance the mural could get painted over, but even if it did, they would still be starting an important conversation about race relations in Shorewood.
On Thursday, June 2, Davis sat down with the students to talk about the mural and the way the situation unfolded. Shorewood School Board President Paru Shah and state Rep. David Bowen were also part of the discussion.
'The students brilliantly got themselves at the table with the people they wanted to talk to, and to their credit, those people listened,' Zimpel said. 'Now everyone is talking about the censorship angle, and the students are trying to redirect everyone's attention to the more important topics of racial relations and Shorewood's perception of progressiveness. It's a good life experience for these students.'
After the meeting, Davis said in a statement that he apologized to the students, and that he was proud of the research and the work the students put into the project.
'I apologized for having it painted over,' he said. 'I look forward to working with them on institutionalizing racial inclusion in Shorewood.'
The art teachers and students came away from the meeting feeling positive. Zimpel and Mohagen said art teachers and students are given a lot of freedom in Shorewood, and the fact that the administration sat down, had a conversation with the students and apologized is evidence of that freedom.
The AP art students collectively issued a statement saying they are partnering with the administration in making Shorewood more inclusive.
'We knew going in that race was a very difficult issue to confront, and realized that if we stayed silent the issue would continue to be ignored,' they said. 'Our goal as artists was to display the students' words in a confrontational manner so that it would be difficult for the Shorewood community to ignore, as even those aware of the issue are passive towards a solution or feel incapable of making a change.'
Shorewood School Board President Paru Shah said in a statement that she was impressed with the students' maturity and graciousness in accepting Davis' apology.
'Conversations about race are difficult and often messy, but I am confident we will move forward from this as a stronger community, committed to having these conversations on a regular basis,' she said.
Bowen said in a statement that he thought the meeting was 'very constructive.'
'I look forward to continue working with administration, faculty, students, and the community to ensure inclusiveness is a priority in Shorewood schools,' he said.